Updated Nov. 12 at 3 p.m.
New Mexico State Police arrested three men in Peñasco late Monday afternoon (Nov. 11) in connection to an armed robbery that terrorized a local cashier who had brought her infant child to work.
According to a statement of probable cause filed Tuesday morning (Nov. 12) in Taos Magistrate Court, the three suspects – Terance Quintana, 22; Andrew Romero, 28; and Christopher Shemayme, 24 – carried out the robbery to pool enough cash to score heroin in the mountain communities southeast of Taos.
Edwardo Martinez, commander of state police in Taos County, said dispatchers alerted his officers to the robbery at Pacheco's High Road Market around 4:10 p.m. on Monday (Nov. 11).
Dispatchers said witnesses at the scene described an armed man – later identified as Quintana – who wore a white hoodie and a white bandana over his face, fired a shot into the air from a handgun, robbed the register and then fled in an unknown direction.
It took several minutes for officers to reach Peñasco, with one officer not arriving for roughly 40 minutes from the time the robbery was reported.
At the scene, the cashier explained that she was accompanied by her infant child when the man entered the store and demanded cash from the register. She told the officers she thought the robbery was a joke – until the man produced a black and silver handgun, prompting her to immediately begin emptying the till.
She said the robber appeared to grow nervous as more customers arrived at the door of the popular gas station market. He fired a single shot into the store ceiling, grabbed what cash had been removed from the register and fled the market.
As they heard the story, officers looked up and saw a hole in the ceiling created by the bullet and collected a spent shell casing from the floor. Other employees at the store said they recognized the masked robber as Quintana, a local they were familiar with, as they reviewed surveillance footage.
Outside the store, a state police officer also familiar with the area recognized Quintana's father at the Dollar General down the road and interviewed him about his son's whereabouts. After hearing about the robbery, Mr. Quintana agreed to lead the officers to his residence.
At the Quintana home, the officers found and placed under arrest all three men on several felonies. On top of Quintana's laundry basket, an officer found a black and silver handgun, and on the bed, a white bandana.
While interviewing Romero before placing him into a state police patrol unit, officers learned that Quintana had been driving the three men around in his father's white Toyota truck Monday afternoon when he stopped at a local church, left the vehicle with the hangun and told his friends to wait for him.
Romero said Quintana returned to the vehicle several minutes later at a sprint and told them to quickly leave the area. From there, he said they drove to a residence in Ojo Sarco, where Quintana bought narcotics.
Searching Quintana, officers found a darkly colored substance in a plastic bag – which Quintana acknowledged was heroin – and an orange container, which the suspect said contained "roaches."
Quintana was charged with seven counts: armed robbery; conspiracy to commit armed robbery; assault with intent to commit a violent felony; attempt to commit child abuse; possessin of a controlled substance; tampering with evidence; and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Romero and Shemayme were each charged with armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
The store's owner, Michael Pacheco, said that this week's robbery isn't the first in the market's 46-year history.
"We've been held up before," he said, "but nothing like this – no gunfire."
The first time someone walked into his store brandishing a gun was more than 20 years ago, he said. After the robbery, Pacheco installed surveillance cameras and began instructing his employees to avoid violent escalations at all costs.
But Pacheco said local business owners can only do so much. A lack of local law enforcement, he added, is a problem that still gives him and other local residents concern.
"We try our best to cover that area daily, both day and night, as much as possible," said Commander Martinez. "I have three officers that live south of Peñasco who patrol that area almost everyday ..."
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said he also assigns his deputies to conduct "regular and dedicated patrols" in the outlying communities around Taos County.
But, he said, a single call that requires a larger response can often pull them off those patrols and send them elsewhere.
For Hogrefe, the real issue isn't how patrols are being assigned, but rather a lack of staffing at his office to cover a county whose population can expand dramatically during peak tourist seasons. More people can, in turn, increase call volumes.
"At the end of the day, I have to reflect that our call volume continues to be very high for a County of only 35,000, with a tourist driven population of nearly twice that sometimes," he said. "A staff double what I have would be nice to really combat the problems."
The Taos County Commission this year allocated funding for two additional full-time positions and one half-time position at the sheriff's office to be filled with young trainees who will enter the academy next year.
Hogrefe had argued for six.
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